Countering terrorist threats remains a huge focus for the EU states in 2017. Even during New Year celebrations in countries like Germany and Italy, several terrorist attacks and conflicts associated with migrants were witnessed.
European officials fear that terror attacks will increase this year, as terrorists continue to infiltrate the lines of migrants to the Old Continent. British media reported that a leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), namely Lavdrim Muhaxheri, along with about 300-400 IS fighters may have penetrated into Europe disguised as refugees.
The increase in terrorist threats also means that the EU will have to pay more for the war against terrorism both in and outside the continent. French President François Hollande in his New Year message was committed to pursuing the fight against terrorism and extremism worldwide.
Meanwhile, a major problem for the EU for years – the migrant crisis – is forecast to remain a serious challenge for the region in 2017, in the context of armed conflict hotspots around the EU still show no sign of cooling down.
The latest statistics show that the number of migrants granted asylum in Belgium over the past year climbed to a record high. In the first 11 months of 2016, a total of 14,241 migrants were given refugee status by Belgium authorities, an increase of approximately 30% compared to 2015 – the peak year of the migration crisis.
Recent reports from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) revealed that the number of migrant fatalities in the Mediterranean in 2016 rose to a record 5,000, up nearly 25% compared to 2015. The figures again reflect the increasing numbers of illegal immigrants in Europe which is causing serious consequences.
The mass migration influxes into the EU have resulted in the alliance facing major challenges relating to security, economy and foreign affairs in 2017, after the EU has already dealt with internal dissent on receiving migrants and the budgets of many countries being eroded.
EU countries have recently decided to increase the 2017 budget, prioritising employment and migrant issues. Accordingly, the European Parliament has approved the 2017 budget for the bloc with a total EUR157.86 billion to help ensure security and resolve migrant crises which is considered the biggest crisis since the Second World War.
In the 2016 New Year message a year ago, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel affirmed that the wave of refugees meant future opportunities. However, with the major challenges outlined above, it seems that European leaders are facing increasing difficulties in convincing their people that the migration crisis is an “opportunity.”
Aside from the risk of terrorism and migration crisis in 2017 the EU also faces potential concerns from elections and the UK’s official launch of its Brexit plan. British media has come to realise that voters who are unhappy with the current situation would place expectations on the parties that support the new populism. Thus, the European elections this year are forecast to be fierce “battles” and that populist factions successful in the elections would be the major challenge threatening the Eurozone’s cohesion.
Economic experts are also concerned that political upheaval may cause pressure on private investors and undermine public financial institutions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that Brexit would negatively impact most EU countries that hold trade relations with the UK, such as Ireland, Cyprus, Malta, the Netherlands and Belgium.
In her 2017 New Year message, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the new year was a time of reflection of what has passed and a time to look forward to new prospects, while expressing her hope that new opportunities would come in the new year. Perhaps this is also the common wish of leaders and citizens of the EU countries.
However, to have a successful 2017, surely the EU member states must unite and more severely address the migration crisis and the fight against terrorism while strongly implementing economic reforms which have come to light in the past year.